En español | "Deals these days are fewer and farther between," says Rick Seaney, cofounder and CEO of FareCompare.com. But with multiple booking options, they can be found. Here's how to go after the best-priced plane ticket.
1. Know the websites
- Google.com/flights and Google.com/flights/explore let you check the lowest prices to a given destination by month, and they list any specials and will send alerts about good deals.
- Set up an airfare "watch" with a site such as Airfarewatchdog.com. It also alerts you when prices to your chosen destination drop.
- Sites such as Kayak.com and Hipmunk.com give you the option of comparing pricing on other travel sites such as Expedia, Priceline and the like.
- If you have a preferred airline, always go to its site because sometimes it can beat online travel agencies for best prices.
- Unfortunately, senior discounts aren't widely offered. Southwest offers one, which can be useful, but that fare is usually trumped by the low prices of the airline's Wanna Get Away specials.
2. Time your trip
- One rule of thumb generally holds true: Try to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday — they're typically slower than other days, as business travel is lighter.
- Don't travel at peak times, which means not flying on the Sunday after Thanksgiving or any other time when seats are coveted. Consider starting a summer trip before school is out. Visit Europe before May and after summer vacations. Be aware, however, that a tidal wave of boomers is expected to flood Europe in the fall, so don't count on bargain transatlantic flights at that time of year.
3. Time your booking
- FareCompare's Seaney says not to make the mistake of booking too far in advance — this is when fares are usually higher. A study by CheapAir.com found that the prime booking window for a domestic flight is 21 to 112 days out; 54 days in advance, on average, is a good time to buy. Seaney says to start shopping three months in advance for domestic travel and five months out for international travel so that you'll be prepared to pounce when the price is right. Sales tend to show up online on Tuesdays, he says.
- If you must book close to travel time, check out CheapOair.com.
4. Consider alternate airports
- Sometimes choosing an airport farther from home, or from your intended destination, can save you hundreds of dollars.
- Sites including Kayak (click on "Kayak Explore" on the Kayak homepage), Google.com/flights and Southwest.com have maps that show airports in relation to destination and departure cities. Southwest's "Map search" has a bar you can slide to find out which airport destinations are cheapest for you.
5. Keep up with budget carriers
- Southwest, Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier and Icelandair are worth checking. Budget foreign carriers are also available to and from the U.S., among them WOW air, Air Berlin and Norwegian Air Shuttle (which sold one-way fares from East Coast cities to the Caribbean for as little as $69 in the winter of 2015).
- George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, says it's smart to use low-cost carriers to get you around other continents. (You may find flights for under $20.) Ryanair and EasyJet offer deals in Europe. Scoot and AirAsia are big in Asia.
- Watch for new carriers and routes — which usually signal specials.
6. Factor in fees
- Many airlines charge for checked bags, better seats, priority boarding — and even for carry-ons. So if you don't pack light or if you want a specific seat location, you could bump up the price of a bargain fare significantly.
7. Check out airline credit cards
- If you are loyal to a specific carrier that's big at your preferred airport, it might make financial sense to carry an airline-branded Visa or MasterCard, says frequent-flier expert Jay Sorensen, president of Wisconsin-based IdeaWorksCompany. You may get a bonus of 50,000 miles plus benefits such as free checked bags, priority boarding and free foreign currency conversion — but you may have to spend a certain amount to get those bonuses.
- Also consider cards that give you miles for every dollar spent and will allow you to choose from a longer list of airlines.
- Remember: Cards that dole out miles typically come with annual fees, so they may not be worth the cost for infrequent fliers.
8. See if one-way tickets pay off
- Buying a one-way ticket used to be pricey until low-fare carriers began offering them at affordable prices. Other airlines followed suit. One-ways may work well for multicity trips.
- Airfarewatchdog's Hobica uses a personal example: He wanted to fly from Los Angeles to New Yorkto Sarasota, Fla. and then back to Los Angeles, with stopovers in New York and Florida. One airline wanted $2,100 for that itinerary. Hobica did his homework and found one-way tickets on various airlines for a total of $550.
9. Consider air and hotel packages
- If you're not wedded to a specific hotel, bundling airfare with lodging can save a bundle. In some cases, Hobica says, it's even cheaper to buy the package and not stay at the hotel.
10. Use frequent-flier miles wisely
- If you are lucky to have amassed a stash of miles, trade them for trips carefully. Seaney says the ideal time to use your miles is when a ticket costs $450 or more. (Hobica says more than $500.)
- Miles are lifesavers when you must fly unexpectedly — such as to a funeral or when you're not sure of a return date. Last-minute fares can cost $1,000 or more round trip.
- Consider using miles to upgrade to business or first class on long transcontinental or international flights, where comfort is an issue.
- Whatever you do, don't let miles expire. You usually can keep them by buying something as small as a magazine subscription via the airline-sponsored.